Being Right

News cropped up on social media, to the apparent glee of those who hate schooling or were mediocre in academics, that university degrees are no longer considered necessary in the workplace.
A CNBC report listed Google, Penguin Random House, Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods, Hilton, Publix, Apple, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Home Depot, IBM, Bank of America, Chipotle, and Lowe’s as examples of companies that do not require college degrees.
Interesting that, despite the anti-intellectualism the foregoing implies, the consequences are actually quite counterintuitive.
Offhand, grades may not seem to matter. Business columnist Becky Vaughn-Furlow writes in that what is paramount today is “a strong work ethic. Every employee, from CEO to entry-level worker, must have a good work ethic to keep the company functioning at its peak. A work ethic is a set of moral principles an employee uses in his or her job.”
Some characteristics of such ethic are said to be: dependability, dedication, productivity, character, integrity, discipline, respectfulness, determination, accountability, humility, passion, and adaptability.
Now such is difficult to disagree with. Excellent grades and other signs of high intelligence may indeed have their place but it’s the other things — those that signify good character — that truly make the difference.
Thus, in the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Entry-Level Applicant Job Skills Survey, 97% of HR professionals surveyed declared the utter importance of dependability and reliability (e.g., punctual attendance) in determining whether an applicant is hired.
On the other hand, 87% leaned on integrity. Here, it is defined as honesty and treating others (including company time and resources) with fairness and respect.
Other important traits are: respect (84%), the ability to work well within teams (83%), and caring for customer needs (or customer care, at 78%).
This aligns with what Stephane Kasriel, Upwork CEO and commentator for CNBC, once wrote: “Too often, degrees are still thought of as lifelong stamps of professional competency. They tend to create a false sense of security, perpetuating the illusion that work — and the knowledge it requires — is static. It’s not.”
She, in turn, points to the Freelancing in America 2018 survey, which finds that “the future of work won’t be about college degrees, it will be about job skills.” Thus, 93% of the freelancers interviewed said that “skills training was useful,” while only 79% said the same about their college education.
More interestingly, reference is also made to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs report, which predicts that 65% of “children entering primary school will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist.”
The foregoing trend is partially reflected in the latest Social Weather Station’s (SWS) survey on unemployment, with around 9.8 million Filipinos unemployed in this year’s third quarter. This represents an adult joblessness rate of 22%, 2.3% higher than June’s 19.7%.
What is significant is that 8.4% of that, representing 3.7 million, actually left their jobs voluntarily without another job prospectively lined up to take its place.
What can be gleaned from the foregoing?
First, as Ms. Kasriel cautions, it is a mistake to think that “college is a waste of time and money for everyone. But if there’s one takeaway, it’s this: The future of work won’t be about degrees. More and more, it’ll be about skills. And no one school, whether it be Harvard, General Assembly or Udacity, can ever insulate us from the unpredictability of technological progression and disruption.”
From there, we can perceive other possible insights, such as the negative effect of radically increased access to education. Not democratization (which is a good thing) but more popularization. Or perhaps a better framing: the imprudent allowing of liberal over-inclusiveness to dominate the education sector.
Because ironically, those who hate schooling and are now celebrating the relative decrease of its importance, were, perhaps, only able to get into school in the first place because standards were lowered to allow them in.
In other words, even though commonsensically not everyone is fit for a university degree, to avoid offending those unfit for such, to make education more “inclusive” (a term worth despising), admissions and education criteria were adjusted to allow almost anyone to get a degree. And it’s also not far-fetched to think that commercial interests played a role.
The point: university degrees used to be compelling because schools previously took only those with clear talent and then sifted out or molded that talent even further. That rigorous process gave employers an obvious incentive to prefer university graduates.
But if anyone can now become a university graduate, then a degree practically means nothing. As a consequence, employers logically search for other credible criteria to separate the good from the mediocre.
The alternatives employers are now starting to use — skills, adaptability, and work ethic — are, ironically, actually more exclusive, making it even harder for applicants since these qualities require more time, commitment, and humility on their part.
But in these self-entitled times, perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
Jemy Gatdula is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.
Twitter @jemygatdula